Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

Category Archives: novel

Writing For Clarion–You Can Help!

Hey all! I’m joining the Clarion Write-A-Thon again this year. This is a six-week period that coincides with the Clarion Workshop, during which I pledge to work on a writing project with a goal to be completed by the end of the six weeks. I’m hoping to raise money for the Clarion Foundation, which helps aspiring fantasy and science fiction writers form communities and strengthen their craft.

Why am I doing this? Well, I attended Clarion a couple years ago, and it was a transformative experience. I want to do what I can to help others have that same experience. Plus this is a good way to have a structured writing period. Last year I wrote about 75% of a novel first draft during this time, and having a responsibility to write every day helped me get that done. This year I will be traveling for about half of the six weeks, so having a goal to meet is even more important.

I’ll be working on a rewrite during the six weeks, redrafting a novel I wrote two years ago that has gotten mixed reviews from beta readers–some like it a lot, some think it could be improved. I’m hoping to keep the parts people like (the characters, the setting, the concept) while also shoring up the parts that were weak in the first draft (world-building and plot). I’ve never done a redraft like this before, so I’m hoping the structure of the Write-A-Thon will help with that as well.

You can help by donating or pledging on my page! The more donations/pledges I get, the more accountable I will feel to all those people putting their trust in me and the more diligently I will write. I don’t think I can get the whole redraft done in six weeks, not with conventions taking up four of the weekends, but I aim to get enough momentum on it that I can finish it by the end of August.

So anything you can spare to help–$5, $10–is greatly appreciated.

How Do You Feel When You Finish A Book?

This is how Roald Dahl‘s grand-daughter widow remembers him feeling:

He used to get grumpy when he was finishing a book and I remember saying, “But you should be so pleased you’re reaching the end!” And he used to say, “You don’t understand – it’s the fear of never writing another one.”

(Edited to correct grand-daughter to widow–I misread the preceding paragraph.)

How Do You Start A Novel?

Kelly McCullough has some good thoughts on the matter…

I particularly like the comparison to an essay: get to your thesis statement, prove your thesis statement, recap your thesis statement. In essence, as our screenwriting teacher would say, your story is a thesis about the best way to live. The main character is missing something, or is doing something wrong, and in order to change his life, he needs to learn a lesson, gain an understanding, something like that. So it helps to think about that when you’re structuring your character arc: show the reader what he needs; show the reader how he gets it and why he needs it; show the reader how much better life is when he has it (or how miserable he continues to be without it).

Award Nomination!

Hey, Common and Precious got nominated for an award! The Ursa Major Awards celebrate the best in fiction with anthropomorphic themes, and I’m on this year’s ballot! It’s a small award, but a cool one, so if you helped nominate, thanks! The voting is open to anyone, so now if you’d like to drop in and cast your vote for my novel, that’d be super cool! Also, my journal “New Fables” got nominated for best “fanzine,” so while you’re there, drop a vote in that category as well if you like. :)

Let me know when you’re nominated for something and I’ll vote for you too. :)

Sample Chapters Online!

You can now read the Intro/Prologue and a sample excerpt from my novel at furrag.com. If you’re interested, please go take a look. It’s eligible for an Ursa Major Award this year, so I’m putting the book online to try to get support for a nomination and, hopefully eventually, a win.

You can also let me know what you think in the comments here! Thanks for reading.

Short Stories vs. Novels

The question came up over the weekend about writing short stories versus writing novels. Lots of beginning writers try to dive into a novel first time out, and get discouraged because of the scope of the project. For some of them, it might be easier to work on short stories. You get the positive reinforcement of finishing a project quickly, and restricting the scope of your writing makes it seem more manageable.

But the drawback of short stories is that they are short. If you are interested in long character arcs, societal change, or other big ideas, you may not be able to work in anything less than novel form (though to be honest, most writers end up doing both at one time or another–one of the English language’s most famous novelists, Charles Dickens, is perhaps best known for his short story/novella, “A Christmas Carol”). In that case, you should be looking at breaking up your novel into manageable pieces. Write an outline. Write a chapter. Set milestones that are nearer than “finish the novel.”

Another thing I think is more important with novels than with short stories is to write a first draft without letting your inner editor get in the way. Because you have so much more to write, it’s important to get it all down. With a short story, the process of editing is smaller and more contained, and you can let your editor interfere a little as you’re doing your writing. With your novel, you’re going to throw out whole sections anyway. Don’t bother correcting your grammar or word use when drafting. Don’t let yourself get hung up on research. If you know there’s a thing you want to include, but you don’t know the name, just write [later] in your text. I use square brackets for in-manuscript notes because I never use them for punctuation in a manuscript. Then I can just go back and search on “[” and “]” and find all the notes I meant to fill in later. The important thing, again, is to get the draft down.

Then you can worry about getting motivated for the editing. :)

…If Only You Could Live In Your Novel

It struck me recently that owning a home is kind of like writing a novel. You might ask someone to give your precious possession a look over, to make some minor improvements to the pacing (or, say, to run a gas line to the backyard). Well, when they give it back, they say, “hey, did you know that your plot has a major discontinuity in it?” (or, say, that your hot water heater is leaking). And of course, as anyone knows, even a minor fix to a novel (or a house) inevitably ends in more than one trip to the reference shelf (or Home Depot), taking two or three (or ten) times the time (and money) you’d originally thought it would.

Both are complicated structures with a lot of dependent parts. The good thing about the novel is that its parts don’t degrade over time if you don’t touch them. However, like a house, all the parts are subject to individual taste and perception; it is nearly impossible to view either of them objectively at anything other than the most fundamental level (it has four walls and a roof/the language is technically proficient).

I wasn’t sure this post was going to have a point when it started. I just thought it was an amusing analogy. But I think it does have a point, and that is that whether it’s your house or your novel, you have to ultimately trust your judgment. You can bring in people who are experts in the big things, the foundation it’s all built on, but when it comes to whether it’s finished, that should be your decision. You’re the one who has to live with it. You could tinker with it endlessly–trust me, you will never run out of things to fix. But at some point you have to say, “Enough.”

Learning how to do that is one of the most difficult parts of being a writer. I would say it’s the most difficult part of being a homeowner, but I have a mortgage. And, now, a new hot water heater.

Finished! No, wait…

I’ve been working for a while on the poorly-titled “Aya’s Journal,” a pseudo-web-journal penned by a 23rd-century anthropologist embarking on the study of the first sapient aliens man has encountered. You may, if you’re so inclined, read the first few entries, which I’d put online in the initial hope of building a readership so that the subsequent stories would have an audience. I stalled on the online part, but started giving the chapters to my writing group, who helped with enthusiastic feedback that motivated me to write more (thanks, guys!).

And now the first part of Aya’s story is written, at least in first draft form. I think it stands reasonably well on its own (but we shall see in a few weeks what the group thinks of it). It ties up the character arc I started–one of them–but doesn’t resolve all the plot threads, nor the overall question of the story. That’s kind of a departure for me. I’ve written short stories, I’ve written novels, but I hadn’t before written something that ends without wrapping up the plot. There are more threads to write, but this is a good stopping point, from a story point as well as a benchmark of 60,000 words, and it sets up this book as the first of a trilogy.

Robert Silverberg once said, while expressing disdain for the “fantasy trilogy,” “Yes, I too have committed a trilogy.” In his case, it was more like two sequential novels with a bunch of mostly unrelated short stories in between. But still, it’s billed as the “Majipoor Trilogy,” and he seemed resigned to that designation. Aya’s Journal originally started as a two-book concept, where the first was going to be mostly setup for the second–hence the idea to put the first online. But the first got more complicated, and eventually burgeoned into two books all by itself.

One of the problems with that was that it became increasingly hard to keep track of what the overall theme of the book was. By the time I was halfway through this part, scrambling to get one “chapter” done every month, I was just pushing the story along without really thinking about theme. But it started to gel with this next to last part, and this last part (again, I hope) wraps things up nicely… while leaving me an opening to take Aya on a newish kind of story.

I imagine when I start the second book, I’ll have to figure out how to recap the first without it being too obvious, but right now I’m just kind of sitting back and enjoying the fact that it came to a satisfying conclusion. And not thinking about editing. No sirree.

I am curious whether anyone else has done anything episodic like this, and how you managed to keep the theme and arcs straight across episodes if so…


November, many of you may be aware, is National Novel-Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. Every year, someone asks if I’m going to participate in it. I think it’s a great idea, but I’ve never done it and likely never will.

One of the things stopping people from writing is a lack of urgency or pressure. Another is the daunting scope of the task once you actually sit down to try to write a novel. I mean, a whole novel. That ranges from 50,000 to upwards of 200,000 words–but let’s stick with 50,000, the NaNoWriMo goal. The average sentence runs eight to ten words. So we’re talking between five and six thousand sentences. Mike Davidson, the CEO of Newsvine, tried to address his e-mail overload by putting a five-sentence limit on his replies to e-mail. Let’s take that as an average, for lack of any better number. So a novel is like answering a thousand e-mails. And you want to do this in a month, on top of answering the thousand e-mails you already have to answer?

Well, NaNoWriMo gives you a deadline (November 30), and breaks the daunting task down into manageable stages (2,000 words a day–that’s not so bad, only 40 e-mails, right?). I know a number of people who’ve been successful at getting the novels done. There is a National Novel Editing Month as well (in March; National Novel Finishing Month is , which is less popular because editing, while just as critical as writing, is less well-defined. NaNoEdMo asks for fifty hours of editing in a month, which is a nice goal, but fifty hours of editing doesn’t have the tangible word-count goal that fifty thousand words does. (And then there’s National Novel Finishing Month, which doesn’t appear to have any goal other than to keep people writing on the novels they started for NaNoWriMo.)

At any rate: NaNoWriMo is a success because it helps people acquire the structure they need in order to finish a novel. I’m all for it. But I’ve already written a novel, and in fact just finished another one (the topic of another post). And really, I have enough projects on my plate that I don’t need to start another novel. Also, it seems like you could pick a better month, one that doesn’t include Thanksgiving (when I’m sure very little writing gets done).

However, in the spirit of NaNoWriMo, I’m declaring November my National Blogging Month (NaBloMo?). I am going to attempt to post to this blog every day in November (okay, so I missed November 1, but I did post on October 31 and since I thought that post was on the first, I’m counting it. It’s my NaBloMo, I’m making the rules.). It’s going to be challenging, since I have not only Thanksgiving but our annual convention in Chicago to attend, but I’m going to give it a whirl. Your support is appreciated! And it’s not too late to get in on the fun–join NaBloMo along with me! Let’s flood the internet with our babble!